Decarbonising Public Transport in India: An Issue Brief


Sustainable urban transportation systems are a key defining element of sustainable urbanisation. This calls for simultaneous pursuit of the agendas of decarbonisation, sustainable development, and resilient transport infrastructure.

Shifting demographic patterns, rising incomes and aspirations, and the need to service mobility demands arising from enhanced economic activity are the most common drivers of transportation demand. Meanwhile, transport, as it exists today, is often inefficient, carbon intensive, and fossil-fuel-dependent. Further, weather and climate extremes pose serious risks to incumbent transportation infrastructure and threaten economic disruption. In India, transport is one of the fastest growing sectors—and also one of the biggest emitters of atmospheric pollution, specifically carbon emissions.

Public transportation systems, powered by cleaner fuels or clean electricity, have been widely recognised as an important element of the coupled decarbonisation–development strategy. Despite sustained policy attention, a rapid shift towards public transport, particularly bus-based systems, has been challenging and has delivered mixed outcomes in various Indian cities.

This issue brief focuses on the goals of decarbonisation in the transport sector, summarising contemporary insights that could help frame an actionable agenda in the context of the India’s urban public transport systems. The brief suggests that a modal ‘shift’ towards public transport, with a focus on public transit systems such as buses, could be the primary vehicle for urban transport decarbonisation in India. It also emphasises that this shift must be complemented by improving and cleaning up the ‘fuel’ component and improving user experience of public transport, specifically buses.